The Cultural Quilt of Africa: A Series of Traditions

Africa is a quilted continent of ritual and tradition. With a multitude of rich tribal history, mythology, beliefs and religions, Africa ignites and fuels one’s cultural curiosity. Through our ‘Series of Traditions’, Jenman African Safaris will select and celebrate various countries’ celebrations and festivals – a virtual tour through the heartbeat of each destination.

For our first delve into the cultural depths of Africa, we have chosen two traditional age-old annual ceremonies: the Kuomboka Festival in Zambia, and the Lamu Cultural Festival in Kenya. Both events celebrate past rituals and ancient lifestyles of their country, proud of their respective heritage. Each celebration is filled with song, dance and colour – vibrant in energy, praising the beliefs and customs of the past and present. One festival is performed upon water, carrying their king to the safety of dry land, and the other, upon donkeys – racing for recognition. 

The culture of a destination is where the true heart of a country lies, rich in religion, mythology and ritual. Join us on a journey through the rhythm beneath Zambia and Kenya. 

Kuomboka Festival in Zambia 

Each year in March after the rains when the upper Zambezi floods the Barotse Floodplains, the Lozi people of Zambia throw a celebration. This is in honour of the Litunga, the Lozi king’s journey from floodplain to higher ground. Kuomboka means “to get out of water”. The procession takes place on a large wooden boat adorned with a giant model elephant called the Nalikwanda, moving the king to dry land as summer gives way to winter. 

The procession is led by the rhythmical beat of large royal drums (Maomas), with over 100 men rowing the Litunga (king), for up to 8 hours. A fire burns on the Litunga’s boat throughout the journey, an indication the king is alive and well, and on the move. 

Video By Charl Pauw

The festival originates from the annual arrival of the floods. Legend has it that hundreds of years ago there was an almighty flood, sweeping away villages and animals. The local people beseeched the ancestors asking for a way to escape a similar demise. Their God, Nyambe, ordered a man to craft a large wooden canoe that would transport the villagers to safety. Since then, each year when the moon is full after the rains, the parade transfers their Litunga to safety, following the call to dry land.

Music plays an integral role in the procession, song and drum beat leading people to higher ground through melody. This, coupled with the colourful red hats and vibrant chitenge (colourful pieces of fabric) of the oarsmen makes for a sensory spectacle. 

Lamu Cultural Festival in Kenya

Every year Lamu comes alive with celebration of its rich Swahili culture, sharing and preserving its rituals, traditions and beliefs. Three days of festivities every November honour Swahili heritage through henna painting, donkey races, dhow sailing, poetry and the chance to enjoy various local swahili dishes. The town of Lamu is a World Heritage Site, the cultural festival providing insight into the lifestyle, architecture and rituals of the old days. The preservation of traditional Swahili life is the essence of the festival, celebrating activities that date back centuries. 

The streets are filled with traditional music and dance, the men performing Kirumbizi, a dance which uses large sticks as props, and the women sing Taarab throughout the day. Taarab is a fusion of Swahili tunes sung in a rhythmic poetic style, keeping the oral traditions of Swahili alive. 

One of the most anticipated parts of the festival is the donkey racing. As the primary form of transport in Lamu, donkeys are an integral part of daily life, the narrow roads and streets can accommodate their size. Training for this event can start up to a year before the race – each competitor taking the possibility of victory to heart! This annual festival is the perfect event to attend to get a peek into the past and proud present of Kenya.

Africa’s cultural landscape is bold and diverse – each country exuding its own character, built on the foundations of deep-set traditions.

Watch this space to return to the cultural quilt of Africa, exploring what makes its heart sing.

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